So where is Turks and Caicos islands, by the way?

So where is Turks and Caicos islands, by the way?
This time next week Peter and Jill Beckingham will be in Beckingham Palace. That’s not Buckingham Palace, in case you thought I made a mistake, but it will be the British couple’s new address, a mansion by the sea for the next few years when they leave India for distant shores. Altamount Road, Mumbai to Turks and Caicos islands is virtually like time travel, especially if you don’t know that (A) there’s a place called Turks and Caicos Islands on our globe, and (B) consequently you don't know where on the globe it is. With my superior knowledge of geography (gained by asking Peter intelligent and searching questions like, “Where the hell is Turks and Caicos Islands?”), I can tell you that these are islands near the West Indies. And why are the Beckinghams going there? Because Peter is to become the islands’ governor.

When Tony Blair was prime minister, he decided that Britain might still hang on to the very last bits of Empire, but Empire’s showy paraphernalia was out of sync with today’s egalitarian times. Earlier, governors of these outposts wore hats and medals and uniforms and probably ribbons. Now governor Beckingham will wear a suit like you and me (more you than me). But they will be in a mansion, the sea will be lapping at their bedroom door, and a hundred servants will do their bidding.

After being British deputy high commissioner for western India (Maharashtra, Gujarat, Goa and heaven knows which other territory annexed by our West), Turks and Caicos should be restful. To start with, the islands’ name sounds like a superior blend of coffee, or may be a high-end departmental store, so that’s the deep, deep peace of money. Besides which, I can confidently and confidentially tell you, Brad Pitt is known to own property there, which should make it safe from pirates.

As the last couple of weeks of hectic farewell parties have shown, Jill and Peter have been a popular Mumbai couple. They are friendly and down to earth, can laugh at themselves, and Peter really knows his cricket. He and I bet on England versus India in the last series of Test matches, but cannily my bet was that if India lost, I would cook for him, an offer he wisely declined. As for Jill, she didn’t hide behind the air conditioners as she well could have, either. In fact, she organised a Dandi march, retracing Mahatma Gandhi’s steps, all of them, from Sabarmati to Dandi and got a whole lot of people to join her on the march in order to raise lakhs for charity. Truly amazing.

The diplomatic service often brings interesting people to the city. The sad part is that in three or four years their term is over, and they get posted to another country to begin life anew. Must be a tough thing to do, but I suppose, with the job comes an ability to connect quickly and make friends instantly. The present US Consul General, Peter Haas and his wife Amy, are justly popular, as were some of their predecessors, particularly David Good and his Gujarati wife, Ila David (I like to think his middle initial is B), became so popular that he went on to the US, not for his government but to work for the Tatas.

With some diplomats, of course, the opposite is true, and three years seem like an awfully long time for them to stay around here. I remember an American who would invite you home, and the moment you sat down, jump to his piano and bang happily away. He was good (not Good), but the music did come in the way of conversation. Conversation wasn’t his wife’s strong point either: I remember a party where she told me she had hurt her thumb. Every time she passed me, which was rather too often, she would say, ‘Oo, my thumb hurts!’ Perhaps, she was thumbing her nose at cocktail chatter.

Social popularity, of course, is not the real indicator of a diplomat’s success. It’s in the quiet things he does, like promoting his country’s trade and business interests, and ensuring good relations with the government, which add up to the true measure. Plus, paradoxically, to achieve the impossible adage that the best news is no news at all: if negative news about his country or his country’s citizens getting into trouble in India stays out of the news, he has done well.

Business between India and Britain has been doing rather nicely, thank you, under his watch, and there wasn’t too much negative news about Britain in India either, so Peter Beckingham, by all parameters, has done exceptionally well during his time in Mumbai. If only he had convinced English cricketers to be accommodating guests, and blundered here and there during the Tests.


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